Brussels, Belgium – The danger of a premature adoption of sanctions against Turkey should not be ignored, warns Daniela Schwarzer. The director of the German Council on Foreign Relations and special adviser to Josep Borrell calls the issue of sanctions “complex in a number of ways: whether they should be imposed, to what extent, under what terms – and under what terms they should be lifted.” Her assessment is that “we have not yet reached the point of broad and deep sanctions. The mediation effort must be given another chance to succeed.”
According to Schwarzer, the Greek-Turkish crisis is a “a very complicated” one for the European Union, with Germany, which holds the rotating Council presidency, attempting to play the role of mediator, and other countries, with France most prominent among them, “backing Greece in other ways.” The more robust French stance vis-à-vis Turkey “sends a strong signal of European solidarity,” she notes, “but it must be balanced by a clear proposal for dialogue” if Ankara moves in the direction of de-escalation. “At this point there is within the EU to a large extent a common analysis of the problem, but disagreement as to the right tools to manage the crisis,” she says.
Is it time for Europe to see Turkey differently – to take seriously its revisionist ambitions and its intention to back them with the use of military force? “Turkey’s intention of using military means to increase its influence on a regional level is something we must take into account. But Turkey remains a partner of the EU in the migration deal, which Europeans consider to be of key importance. Additionally, the economic ties remain strong – though the dependency is greater on the Turkish side. It is, in any case, a relationship that is not reducible to the conflict [in the Eastern Mediterranean]. In Germany, in particular, there is an important domestic dimension, with a significant population of Germans of Turkish origin and Turks who are permanent residents there.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Schwarzer argues that the EU has been “rather passive until now” in North Africa and the Near East. The region “has been destabilized” and “other countries, like Turkey and Russia, have rushed in to fill the void left by the United States.” This is the context, she explains, within which to understand French President Emmanuel Macron’s more robust stance: “History plays a major part in this. France has stronger ties to the Eastern Mediterranean, a relationship with Turkey that is not as close [as Germany’s] and a greater readiness to project its military power.”
The other major crisis that broke out on the borders of the European Union in August was in Belarus. The electoral fraud in the presidential elections and the crackdown on the protests that followed has led to a political agreement at an EU level for the imposition of sanctions on officials of the regime. The head of the German Council on Foreign Relations explains, however, that the next steps are less clear.
“It is becoming ever-clearer that Russian involvement in Belarus is very strong,” she says. “The question, therefore, is whether sanctions can be limited to the Lukashenko regime or if we must take into account the bigger picture and the role of Moscow.” This issue, furthermore, she explains, will now be connected with the wider re-examination of relations with Russia, after the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
“The German government has taken the lead on this issue, with the possibility of suspending Nord Stream 2 now clearly being considered; but it would be wrong to turn this into a showdown between Germany and Russia,” Schwarzer points out. “It must be handled at the level of EU-Russian relations. When Merkel spoke about Navalny and demanded that Russia investigate the case, she made it clear that the evaluation of the Russian response would be made by the EU and NATO.” She admits that the insistence of the chancellor up until now to treat the controversial pipeline as a “business project” separate from the political relationship with Russia “was a weak element of the German approach” to Moscow, “indicative of a certain inconsistency.”
The poisoning of Navalny is a “turning point,” Schwarzer says. “The conversation now, in Germany and in Europe, will move to how we can make things difficult for Putin, how we can put pressure on him.” She herself harbors no illusions about the potential for a normalization of relations with the Russian regime: “Some will now say that Putin is not a reliable partner. But was he in any way a reliable partner since he annexed Crimea? I don’t think so.
Regarding the upcoming US presidential election, Schwarzer is clear: “If Trump is re-elected, Europeans will have to be ready to contribute much more actively to NATO, or see it weakened. Protectionist tendencies will be strengthened and there will be wider use of geo-economic tools to put Europe – and especially Germany – under pressure. Also, Europe would not have a partner in the US, at least on the federal level, for the fight against climate change, the health crisis and other transnational challenges.” But even in the event of a Joe Biden victory, which is “clearly the preferred option,” on issues like 5G Europe will be forced to cut ties with China as the price of cooperation with the US, she says.
How does she view the talk, which has become ubiquitous since the outbreak of the pandemic, about European “strategic autonomy”? “The first priority of the EU is internal: the creation of the economic and political fundamentals that will allow Europe to play a stronger global role. Europe today, for instance, does not have the technology providers that will allow it to make sovereign, autonomous decisions about the great issues relating to the technology of the future. We must first develop the necessary capacity and then see who we want to collaborate with and on what terms.”